What “Rawnald Gregory Erickson The Second” did for STRFKR, “If You Didn’t See Me (Then You Weren’t On the Dancefloor)” has done for the eclectic indie-pop doppel-doppelganger that is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. “If You Didn’t See Me” is both something of a love-lawsuit demanding an alibi and a subtle suggestion to the music world to take stock of this group. Maybe it’s just a long-song-name thing that works for breakout tunes.
But there’s good reason to see and to take notice of this band with their new album “The Speed of Things.” One of the album’s many noteworthy singles, “If You Didn’t See Me,” is both dance oriented and richly melodious, all while retaining a sense of weird indie eclecticism (grace a la mixed meters and wiggly chord movements in the verse). It is that type of song that gets a deserving band recognized for all the varied elements that they can draw into one single four-minute masterpiece.
That ability to draw musical inspiration from widely varied wells of influence is precisely what makes a good band a great band. In the case of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., that ability is one only freshly honed: It can be and should be said of “The Speed of Things” that DEJJ has successfully plucked a proverbial musical marigold from every decade between the present-day and the early ‘60s and assembled a bouquet that smells sweet enough to give as a Valentine’s Day gift.
Aside from “If You Didn’t See Me,” just about every other track on the album is a tasteful — and moreover, fun — melodic melange of all the best elements of all the major musical movements of the last 50 years. “Knock Louder” reminisces of the Beatles in their experimental peacocking prime, full of starry blue notes that speckle a warm red soundscape.
“I Can’t Help It” is a folksy arena-ballad in the style of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. “A Haunting,” one of the last tracks on the record, is a digital, sparkly kaleidoscope of ‘90s electronica blended with broad and gospely ‘70s organs. “Hiding” bumps a Europop Phoenix feel. “Beautiful Dream” is something of a hybrid of early 2000s piano-pleasure R&B and deep-space synth blips.
The majority of the album carries a consistent ‘80s feel, a function of what sounds to be extensive drum programming. But even for those who are turned off by the faintest whiff of the hairspray that held that decade’s designer rat nests, DEJJ worked that idea into their music so expertly that denial of their success would be difficult.
They’re able to mash and mesh so many ideas together because none takes precedent over the others. They all seem to exist in musical equilibrium. And when they let one idea override the others, the track suffers a bit. This is only the case on one track on “The Speed Of Things” — namely the second track called “Run,” wherein the ‘80s hand claps, courtesy of drum pad, get in the way of the rest of the song. But with repeated listens that fault seems to disappear.
While “The Speed Of Things” successfully pieced together a musical mosaic, this has not always been their method of operation. That is to say, they weren’t always successfully doing so.
Their first album, “It’s a Corporate World,” also took the eclectic approach, but with the result of feeling scattered and without a real focus. But this testifies to DEJJs growth as a band. What they could not do before, they now can. So the future of their music is hopeful and bright. Should they fail in their next attempt at something new, one can expect that they’ll get it right with a subsequent attempt.
This daring to dream is commendable and deserves recognition for a band willing to go out on a limb, fall and climb right back up.
Oftentimes, when bands attempt to concoct a record with a little bit of everything, the result feels foreign and estranged, because it doesn’t really fit anywhere. However, DEJJ has held that foreign feeling at bay, instead managing to make a conversely very familiar feeling album. There’s something about the record that fits everywhere at once, even if saying exactly what that is grasps at some straws. But it’s there, and it’s good. This is the album that will hopefully propel Jr. Jr. into a long a prosperous career, ultimately becoming Dale Earnhardt Sr. Sr.
Album: “The Speed of Things”
Artist: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Release Date: Oct. 8, 2013
Genre: Indie Pop